Two tropical forests, six miles apart: a cloud forest and a dry forest

I’ll start with the bad news … you might already know if you’re on our mailing list. We are already out of coffee. Somehow that point snuck up on us. Orders are bursty — sometimes we get onesie-twosie orders, then we get a lot of orders. That, and the small amount we got during the second dry milling, caught us a bit off guard. We have enough to fulfill our subscriptions, but that is about it. We won’t have coffee until late October/November. That’s our predicament (and most Kona coffee farmers) this year. We have to just roll with it.

On another note, we had a field trip with our Master Gardener class last week. We went to the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. I think the passion project sanctuary has been reinventing itself as they transition from management by the visionary/founder, Norm Bezona, to his children and grandchildren. Now a 70-acre forest sanctuary, it started with the first purchase of 20 acres, 15 of which was deforested pasture land at the time. They do a nice job explaining why this narrow cloud forest band, approximately 8 miles x 50 miles, is so special, all thanks to the volcano we live on, Hualālai. (The Kona Coffee Belt is a similar size, but lower in elevation).

Apparently Norm says there’s a four letter word that starts with a W. He has an issue with it. It’s not a bad word in my mind, and I use it all the time: weed!! He challenged others in the past to come up with a better (euphemistic) description. It was long and started with “pioneer species” [blah blah]. I asked, “What about autograph trees and African tulips?” He had an answer, but what I recall is he said that autograph trees withstand fire better than other trees and both trees help reduce carbon. And he did briefly mention plants have to be planted in appropriate places and they can be invasive in some environments (i.e., here).

We did about a mile stroll through part of their sanctuary. We started by spraying the soles of our shoes with diluted alcohol to help against the dreaded Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death. We were lucky the weather was nice. It can often be foggy or rainy up there. It was lovely to be amongst a variety of plants and tall trees and to hear all the birdsong, including the racket of their resident, caged rescued macaws.

Coincidentally, Hubby and I had a tour of Joseph Rock Arboretum lined up for a few days later. It’s only about six miles downhill from the Cloud Forest Sanctuary. This is a 48-acre native Hawaiian dry forest gem tucked away in the heart of Kona, at about 650 feet elevation. Very different than the Cloud Forest. This passion project is at its early stages as opposed to the Cloud Forest Sanctuary at about 40 years. This story map of the Joseph Rock Arboretum is very informative and well done.

A little blurb from the website about Jill Wagner, who has taken on a Herculean task in my mind:

As the founder of Future Forests Nursery on Hawaiʻi Island, and the founding director of the Hawaiʻi Island Seed Bank; reforestation and seed banking are my life’s work, which involves a deep commitment to supporting the health of our planet. I believe that communities should lead their forestry projects and receive the support they need to nurture new forests and keep existing forests standing for future generations. I have been doing native forest restoration in various ecosystems for 28 years.

Jill has only had this land parcel for a few years, and she didn’t even know exactly what she had since most of it was covered in invasive haole koa, like so much of our undeveloped land. She is restoring the dry forest. I didn’t take notes while we were there, and I just snapped a few photos at the end of our visit. There was a LOT to take in, so I just assumed I wouldn’t absorb it all. I wanted to listen, not take photos and notes, and get my overall impression, and it’s a place I’d like to return to many times. Please keep in mind that these notes here might not be completely accurate. I’m trying to recall the story and verifying what I can online.

She has a grant to plant 1000 plants and trees in a certain portion of her land. She took us on a tour in the golf cart and pointed out many of the different trees. She doesn’t subscribe to the 1-5 tree types to reforest land. Her approach has evolved with decades of work and study, attending international conferences, and learning from others. She believes in biodiversity.

In a different dry forest section, plants have formal labels. It’s part of the arboretum accreditation requirements, things like a minimum number of species, labels, a map, and a database. I very much appreciated the labels. It brought to life various lectures we’ve had in Master Gardeners. I recognized names and traits. It’s nice to observe them in real life and to see their growth habits. All plants get kind of normalized when they’re fit in a photo if they don’t have something else in the photo to give it size perspective.

Also on site is the Hawaiʻi Island Seed Bank, containing millions of seeds from across the island. It’s an off-grid, solar-powered, climate- and humidity-controlled container. She’s working on being able to completely specify how to replicate a seed bank, also thinking of challenges in developing countries. This helps her plant her own property and saves material for the future. Standard refrigerator/freezer units are used to help simplify establishing a seed bank.

I’ll repeat the factoids I learned in our first Master Gardener class, illustrating the need for a seed bank:

Definition: an endemic species is found nowhere else in the world.

89% of Hawaii’s flora is endemic.

And another factoid, which comes from 2015, so the numbers have probably changed:

Hawai’i has the highest number of listed threatened and endangered species in the nation. There are 479 threatened and endangered species in the state (54 animals and 425 plants). Of the plants, 416 are endangered and nine are threatened.

Approximately 45% of all endangered and threatened plants in the U.S. are found in the Hawaiian islands.

I hadn’t thought about it, but if people want to do large-scale reforestation, where do you get the trees and plants to be planted? Many might want to have their own seed bank and nursery. Adjacent to the Hawaiʻi Island Seed Bank is another non-profit endeavor, Future Forests, the plant nursery. The germinating seeds and seedlings are in the greenhouses. In this quickly taken photo, at the very back you can only see a portion of the entrance to the seed bank trailer. Not visible are the hardening (getting used to fresh air and sun) seedlings between that second greenhouse and the seed bank.

This is important work. If you or someone you know might be interested, they do offer four-week internships that can be paid or work trade.

4 thoughts on “Two tropical forests, six miles apart: a cloud forest and a dry forest

  1. So glad you got to experience these two different approaches so close together. What would be your call to action for us avid readers to support these projects, and which would you prioritize? Maybe fodder for a future post.

    1. Hmmm. I’d have to think about that and learn much more. My call to action is if it speaks to you, find out more, do your own research. My gut reaction is to prioritize one of the nonprofits associated with the Joseph Rock Arboretum since the arboretum is starting out. They seem to collaborate with many more other organizations compared with the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary, though the Cloud Forest has received various grants for their work. On a personal level, one or both of us might volunteer at the arboretum to learn more and help the mission.

  2. I learn so much about the big island from your posts. Thank you! It’s a comfort to know others have dedicated themselves to preserving these unique environments.

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